As a parent and teacher, nearly every conversation I’ve had in the past couple weeks has focused on the topic of whether or not to send kids back to school due to the threat of COVID 19 and/or disruption of COVID-19 restrictions and rules. Spoiler alert: I’m sending my kids back to school – for a variety of reasons, which I will most likely tackle in my next blog (stay tuned)!
Since my spouse and I are both teachers returning to the classroom, staying home wasn’t an option for us – even if we though it was necessary (which we don’t since in our city there are currently no cases, and only 100 cases confirmed since March). That being said, in discussions with parents who have chosen to keep their kids at home, my advice is always the same: you have to focus on literacy development.
For many students of all ages, the only time they read or write is at school – if ‘school’ isn’t a possibility, then it is quite probable that without significant parent involvement their literacy skills are at risk of declining.
Literacy learning and vocabulary development are essential skills children must learn and master for success in school, work and life; the equation is quite simple: literacy skills = school success = employment = physical, mental and financial health.
Traditionally, literacy was a family activity, but in today’s media drowned world, finding time for family literacy activities can seem intimidating and daunting. Making literacy a family activity doesn’t need to be time consuming or expensive. It’s also a great bonding experience everyone can enjoy.
How can parents calculatingly entwine literacy in their kids daily activities? Read on for some easy and practical ideas!
#1 Shared Reading – Make shared reading (reading a couple pages of a book and passing it on while others listen) a habit. If appropriate, take turns reading as an entire family cuddled in bed or on the couch. Sharing a book together allows for a bonding experience and further conversation. Although traditionally, this activity is seen as more appropriate for younger children, it is quite effective for struggling readers, as well as young adult readers.
#2 Vocabulary Board –Purchase a whiteboard and markers from the Dollar Store and put it up in a central place. When anyone in the family comes across a new or challenging word, they write it on the whiteboard. Then, pick one day a week to discuss the words and guess/find definitions as a group. Alternatively, parents (or kids) can come up with weekly topics (i.e. anatomy, science, space, geography) that vocabulary words can be the focus of. This is especially good if one member of the family is studying for a test or learning about a new subject.
#3 Writing Contest –Seek out a writing contest online or in a magazine (i.e. Polar Publishing has one for kids and adults). Then, each member of the family enters a piece of writing in their age category. Usually, the writing form is prescribed (poem, short story, narrative) so as a family you can also read examples of writing forms to get your feet wet and share drafts of your work with each other for feedback.
#4 Chapters Treat – Looking for a fun, family outing on a cold, rainy day? Head to Chapters (or other local bookstore). Give each family member a budget ($10) and set them loose among the books. Then, spend the afternoon reading your new treasures. Your investment of $10 will be significantly more beneficial for your child than a movie ticket or fast food meal. If you can’t make it to an actual store, website surfing for books is also a fun activity – as is viewing book trailers to make sure your selection is something that will grasp your attention.
#5 Sign Fail – Kids love pointing out adult errors (as do other adults…). Make this a game as you travel in the car. When any member of the family sees a sign with a spelling, word choice, punctuation or grammar error on it they yell: Sign Fail! Often, these are quite comical and end up in a good laugh, but they also create an opportunity for great conversations about how the sign could be edited or revised. This activity can be further extended to print (magazines, newspapers), or anything with visible language.
#6 D.E.A.R. – Humans are creatures of habit. Once we set our internal clocks to a pattern, we’ll drift to it without even thinking. Create a 15-20 minute time for your entire family to D.E.A.R. (drop everything and read). As each family is different, this may work before or after a meal, school or bedtime. The key is participation and consistency – and yes, this holds true for parents as well. Family D.E.A.R. requires everyone to participate and model reading behaviour.
#7 Family Game Night – If living through COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we need to find more indoor activities to pass the time. Board games are the perfect solution to this dilemma. Luckily, many family board games also focus on improving literacy skills: Scrabble, Boggle, etc. Check out a great list of literacy based board games from scholastic. Even if your family isn’t really into board games, individual literacy games such as crossword puzzles or word search are readily available in print and online.
#8 Family Album – Use a digital program such as Shutterfly or Vistaprint to create your own family album with your kids. You can assign family members to create different sections, or work on it together. You can design your book to include as many images or text sections as you’d like, and most are quite inexpensive to print. Follow the writing process of: brainstorming, drafting, writing, editing and publishing with your family. The final products also make fantastic Christmas gifts for friends and relatives!
#9 Plan a Vacation – Vacation planning can be an onerous task involving research, emails, organizing and budgeting. If you often travel with other friends or family, this can also mean coordinating schedules and activities. Literacy skills are embedded in nearly all stages of vacation planning. Why not involve the whole family in this process? A fun twist is to have each family member research and create a presentation about where they think the family should go on vacation, then have a vote on the final destination.
#10 Family Outing – It’s easy to turn a family outing into tricking your kids into learning and reading. Really, it’s as easy as selecting a destination that asks kids to learn and read at either signposts or through digital activities embedded into the environment. Most museums, science centres, art galleries and community parks have these literary elements build into their landscape. Don’t let these literacy opportunities pass you by as your family enjoys your outing!